One of the great benefits of using computers in the classroom is that they generate a project-based learning environment that enables hands-on experience. For many students, this form of learning is far superior to the traditional “read, lecture, and memorize” model that has dominated education for decades.

Now, innovative educators are bringing the learning-by-doing model down to even the youngest grades by creating computer-based projects for elementary-school students. Similar to field trips, these projects encourage students to explore the world in their own way, free from the restrictions of the traditional model.

Here are the elements involved in creating, administering, and assessing a project designed for young elementary school students (grades one through three):

  • Purpose: To teach young children basic computer-management skills, as well as specific programs for word-processing and art skills. More broadly, students will begin to understand how programs can enable them to combine information by cut-and-paste techniques. Finally, the complexity of the project requires students to carry out their efforts for a long period of time.
  • Time: 12 weeks, approximately five hours per week in a computer lab.
  • Format: Students are told to write essays about themselves, which they will transfer online. They are instructed to compose essays prior to computer lab visits.
  • Skill levels: A wide range of skills can be accommodated, from newcomers to students with prior computer experience and decent typing skills.
  • Specific tasks: The children are given four assignments.
  1. Draw a picture of themselves using a computer art program and save the file.
  2. Open the art file and modify it, building in more personal information by using built-in or original icons, designs, or drawings. Type your first name.
  3. Open a word-processing file and import the enhanced photo, making it fit in the new program.
  4. Type in a pre-written writing assignment about themselves, ranging from one sentence (for first-graders) to three paragraphs (for third-graders).

  • Discoveries: Few students received credit for every task, because the writing requirement was beyond the skills of many students. It has since been adjusted so the essays must be completed prior to the computer-related portion. On the other hand, almost every student successfully completed the photo-and-art assignment, as well as the import and cut-and-paste to the word-processing file.

A project for children in grades four and five would build upon these skills by having the students demonstrate better keyboard techniques and the understanding of how to open and save files of their work. Team-based projects probably would be appropriate, too. The teams could create a CD-ROM or web site that included numerous forms of digitized information, including text, sounds, photographs, and computer artwork.